Celebrating 25 Years of the Wolof Partnership

November 16, 2023
John Iamaio

1999 was an exciting year for Browncroft. It was then that we as a church decided to develop a partnership in Senegal, West Africa. Our hope was to minister to a people group called the Wolof, who had very little exposure to the person of Jesus Christ.

A lot has changed at Browncroft since that year, but one thing that has remained consistent is our dedication to the Wolof community. Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity travel to Senegal with a team of Browncrofters to see these friends of ours. It was a joy and a blessing to be able to spend time with them as we prepare to celebrate 25 years of our wonderful collaboration next year.

During our time in Africa, we visited missionaries and a school for the deaf in Dakar. We toured a school for girls, ministered to boys living on the streets, and taught a three-day seminar on trust and transparency to church leaders. We capped our time by participating in the dedication of the University Residence Center that Browncroft raised the funds to build one year ago at the 2022 “Send Me” Conference. It would take a small book to fully describe everything I learned during this trip. But allow me to share just three highlights with you.

Noo Ko Bokk

It was an honor to have Alioune Mangane join us on the trip. Alioune was born and raised in Senegal and came to Christ during the time that our church developed its partnership with the Wolof community. Some of you may have been at Browncroft when he came to Rochester for his education.

In the middle of our tour of the girls’ school, Alioune turned to me and explained something about Wolof culture. “The phrase ‘you’re welcome’ means something different for us in Senegal,” he said.

Interested, I asked him what was unique about the way they express that concept.

He told me, “We say ‘noo ko bokk,’ which means ‘we share it’ or ‘we are together’”.

The beauty of “noo ko bokk” has remained with me since Alioune took the time to explain it. When I think about the partnership we have developed over the past 25 years, this is what strikes me most: Browncroft has taken the time to invest in the Wolof people, but it is in no way a one-sided relationship. We learn and benefit from our brothers and sisters in Senegal just as much as they learn and benefit from us. Throughout our teaching times, meals, tours, and serving, we were sharing this experience with one another.

We learn and benefit from our brothers and sisters in Senegal just as much as they learn and benefit from us.

The Talibe Boys

When we arrived in Senegal, our team stayed in the boys’ training center located in the heart of a city called Saint Louis. The third floor of the building is a roof with a little turf soccer field so the boys can have a place to play. One of my missions teammates, Sherwin Damdar, joined me on my initial trip to the roof. As we looked at all the unfinished cinderblock houses, people sleeping on rooftops, and garbage-lined streets, Sherwin asked me a poignant question: “What are you feeling right now?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I was feeling a lot of things. I felt sorrow for people living in these difficult conditions. I felt hopeless because anything we did seemed to be a drop in the bucket. And I felt uncomfortable. Honestly, a part of me wanted to run away from what I was seeing.

But a couple days later, something changed when we had the opportunity to minister to the Talibe boys. These are kids who live on the streets and beg for money. Anything they make from begging must be turned into their religious leader at the mosque by the end of the day. They sleep on a large concrete floor with no running water or beds.

Christians open their doors to these boys. They feed them, care for their wounds, give them showers, give them time to play, and tell them about Jesus. Some of the members of our team read stories to the kids. Some of us played sports with them. Some colored pictures. It struck me that everyone else might look at these boys as a nuisance, but at the core, they are just a bunch of kids in need of love and attention.

I found myself drawn to sitting with the boys. Unlike my experience on the rooftop, I didn’t want to run away. It turns out that Jesus meets us when we serve people on the margins. His words “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) rang inside my heart.

A Life Well-Lived

Lin Jackson is one of those wise people who are worth listening to. I benefited tremendously from our conversations, and I am extremely thankful that she chose to join our missions team.

Lin’s husband Doug was very involved in the Wolof partnership. Doug was a professor and teacher of God’s Word. He had a passion for pouring into the lives of young men so that they could pour into the lives of others. Doug passed away unexpectedly in 2020.

Doug was talked about many times over the course of the trip. Often, these conversations evoked tears because of how much he had invested in the Wolof people. He shared his brilliant mind and compassionate heart with them. As I watched the reaction that everyone had to Doug’s passing, I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t that the type of life we all long for? Don’t we all want people to think of us so fondly after we are gone that they are moved to tears?” Doug demonstrated a life well-lived.

“Isn’t that the type of life we all long for?”

At the dedication of the University Residence Center, our partners in the Wolof church announced that they would be naming the center after Doug Jackson. In a spirit of honor, they asked Lin if she agreed with this decision. They also asked Gary Kneezel, who had played a crucial role in establishing the Wolof partnership. Both Lin and Gary gave enthusiastic support.

As I looked around I didn’t see many dry eyes. But then again, tears were rolling down my face too, so I can’t say for sure.

***

If you are interested in learning about mission trip opportunities coming up next year, we invite you to join us for our Short-Term Mission Trips Interest Meeting this Sunday, November 19th, after our morning services. If God has called you to serve on one of these trips, I can guarantee that you will come home with powerful stories of your own to share.

About The Author

John Iamaio

John Iamaio serves as Discipleship Pastor at Browncroft. Previously as Missions Director for Cru, he oversaw chapters on 40+ college campuses reaching 1.5 million students across New York. Committed to meaningful relationships and authenticity, John is passionate about investing in the next generation of leaders and helping people grow deeper in what it means to experience Jesus in their own life.

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